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The English Patient -- A Review by Lisa W.

I was particularly taken by the visual imagery Anthony Minghella created, and that's what I'm going to talk about here.

I thought much of the film was exquisite, in its own terms. I also was delighted by the novel, and I see the changes and things omitted, though I like the film just for what it is - and I think it has its own poetry and imagery - which brings me to the opening image of the movie.

A close up. Is it sand? Is it parchment? Is it living skin? Any or all - and all of those come together in the person of Almasy, burnt skin like parchment. Then the exquisite brush work, attentive, like a lover. Focussing intently on the skin of his beloved, just as Almasy later focuses on the fine details of Katherine's body - her shoulder - her throat that he licks the sweat from. What is it? Shapes - could be Arabic lettering. No, it's legs. And a body. And then what? Arms - or claws? The brush makes strokes that could turn this thing into a scorpion, a deadly creature of the desert. But no, it's a person, faceless, face down, arms reaching out. And then it's an echo of the shadow of a plane, and it's Almasy flying over the desert, and his heart is breaking, and the sand he flies over stretches out endlessly, with shadows like that strange figure, or like a woman lying back for her lover, or just acres of formless sand, on and on . . .

And then later, we see the cave of swimmers, and there's another link - so was this figure a swimmer? And swimming in a sea of sand? Swimmers in a desert cave? And then Katherine picks up the image, and we see her delicate brushwork, recreating these cave images, and they are like the opening image, but not quite, for that image was not swimming, it was lost, dying, fallen. Black of skin and faceless, like the English patient. And everything starts to tie together - that opening brushwork, it is Katherine, it is Almasy, it is the cave, it is the desert, it is the plane, it is their fate, it is the beauty and the terrible burning. And maybe that fallen figure is Katherine, trapped in the cave of swimmers . . .

And the music over the opening - haunting. A woman's plaintive voice. And I assumed it was Arabic. And then later (my copy of the screenplay is helping me here), in their love scene while poor darling Geoffrey is waiting in his taxi, Almasy plays the song for Katherine, and it's a Hungarian love song (he says), and it's their story, only of course, he's making all this up, but the echo of it is there in the song as it plays at the beginning of the movie.

And then he is an "explorer", claiming parts of her body, filmed in close up, so its curves could be the desert, and she is face down as he traces her skin, and then, when she turns over, and he explores that famous suprasternal notch, the way his fingers fit into that indentation in her throat is to me evocative of the earlier moment when he finds the clue to the cave of swimmers, and his fingers slip perfectly into the indentations of a handprint in the rock face. And then in the cave near the end, when he traces her skin, and paints saffron on her face, it kind of completes the circuit of the image.

And flying high above the landscape they have been sent to explore, they have freedom, and the sand curves lusciously beneath them, and Almasy can only be free there with Katherine when she is destroyed. And that same sand, filmed like a lover, is deadly and claims and buries them when they are down in it, is hostile and endless when he tries to cross it. I was very sorry they dropped that image of the man falling from the sky, with the woman in his arms, falling and burning. (Like Dedalus/Icarus who flew too close to the sun, and was burned and fell to his death for his pride?)

And then the tinkling of those little glass bottles - music like the sound of water and life in the desert - soothing and restorative for Almasy - is picked up and reflected in Hana's garden, with all the bits of glass and mirror she has rigged to save her pathetic little vegetable garden, to restore life where there was dryness.

Sorry if this reads like romantic slush, but I just felt like trying to recreate the initial impression the movie made on me.

I thought Ralph was perfect for his role - all the casting was first rate. He plays a man who keeps to himself, and then is devastated by his feelings for Katherine, which I thought he portrayed superbly. He no longer has control, he gives up everything he has ever believed in, betrays everybody
. . .

Juliet Binoche really was the main female star, and it's a bit of an insult that she has only a supporting actress nomination for the oscars, which she won't win, of course, because Lauren Bacall will win for Hollywood sentimental reasons. She is the emotional heart of the film. What a wonderful, luminous actress! KST was also excellently cast, and our darling boy did very well with what he was given. I loved all of his precious few moments on screen. And I loved him for doing this tiny part that is so unheroic, and so unlike Darcy.

Lots of story threads made more sense for me when I saw them played out on screen. Sure, it was simplified - I didn't mind, bcause the book and the film stand on their own as works of art. Yes, I'm sorry we lost some of the complexity of the Kip/Hana story, but if we accept that a movie will always simplify its source material, I like the strands that Minghella was able to keep. And the relationship with Kip, which ended not with death but with affirmation, worked on that level. Hana is brought back to life, and has the strength and the love to give death and peace to Almasy. And I didn't feel that the love story dominated at the expense of everything else - it was much less at the centre than I had expected.

Oh, there were even cuts to the printed screenplay - at least one more scene between Hana and Kip, where they discuss why they can't be together, because if she came to India, she would be out of place, and if he came with her, his brown skin would be 'wrong'. Skin again. Skin as topography. Skin as boundary. Skin to be explored . . . brings me back to those images yet again that pervade this movie, of desert, landscape, tracing and touching skin, flying beyond boundaries!

Call me a daft old softie, but I cried heaps near the end, even though I knew exactly what was going to happen. Terrific movie. I'll see it again.